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    Changing the World One Smile at a Time

    change2By Rachel Wahba

    It’s been a long time and we travelled many seas, and survived many storms.

    It has not been easy being a lesbian company, but the rewards continue to outweigh the challenges. I remember those first years, sitting in a smoke-filled room with Greek captains (our first ships were small, Greek-owned vessels), making sure their crew did not come on to the women, as we negotiated the contracts on a ship in some Greek port. Our first captain reassured us with one question:

    “Who was the first lesbian?” he quizzed us.

    “Sappho?”

    “Yes, and she was from Lesvos, where I was born. There will be no problem!”

    Ok, then…we were off and sailing.

    The rewards and adventures are too many to express here—but there is one thing that, for me, as a psychotherapist by trade, I see over time: a sense of validation, mirroring, which is essential to one’s sense of well-being and self-esteem. It happens organically on every Olivia trip. We are seen, we are safe, and we are validated by the inner culture surrounding us. The feeling is contagious; it fills the ships and the resorts, and the smiles are endemic from guests to staff and all around.

    When I travel on my own to the resorts, emptied of Olivia travelers, and wear my Olivia t-shirt, resort staff come up to me and ask when Olivia is coming back because they love Olivia. I love that mutual respect heals wounds that run deep.

    Smiles on the High Seas

    On our first sail on the beloved Greek Dolphin Cruise Line, I came home feeling more empowered than ever before. I was out in San Francisco as a radical lesbian feminist in the 1970s, but I never expected a cruise with lesbians to be so much more than a fun vacation (and, of course, with all the worries of a co-owner). I came home changed. More empowered and bolder, and that surprised me.

    Recently, my very close friend Carmen, who is 80, went with her 50-year-old daughter on our Australia & New Zealand cruise and not only did they have the expected great time, but also Carmen was struck by how “seen” she was. What a difference from match.com! She felt seen and appreciated, and came home glowing.

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    Sharing Smiles with NYF

    As Director of Special Projects for Olivia, I found Olga Murray’s organization, the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), and we recently partnered with this exceptional NGO. We have made Olga’s Promise “Olivia’s Promise” by taking on the freed Kamlari girls who have been saved from slavery in Nepal.

    My granddaughter Becca and I visited Olga in Kathmandu and went to West Nepal to see first-hand how these women and girls—who, not so long ago, cowered in fear and shame—become strong women and activists for equal rights. They are fighting for their rights, both out in the streets and in the courts, all the while building co-ops and providing peer counseling in PTSD clinics. They are feminists building a future for themselves and further generations of girls and women. To see this was a gift and to be able to help, a blessing.

    To date, we have raised over $150,000 to make sure the Kamlari practice in West Nepal will never be revived. At the moment, there are 13,000 freed Kamlari (indentured daughters/slaves). Olga recently came with us on a cruise and fell in love with the women of Olivia; she felt appreciated, seen and had a degree of fun she didn’t quite anticipate. She is coming on board again, as she celebrates her 90th birthday on our Greece & Turkey cruise. And Becca will also be on board to celebrate her 17th birthday! Yes, I am excited.

    These are the unexpected benefits of what initially seems like “just” a vacation. We change internally and we change the world, one smile at a time.

    Rachel Wahba is the Co-founder of Olivia Travel and is the company’s Director of Special Projects. She is also a writer and psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Marin.